Status of women


Women as religious leaders: priests,
priestesses, pastors, ministers, rabbis..

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A note about sexism:

In this section we use the terms "sexist" and "sexism" which we define as "discrimination against a person based on their gender rather than their individual merits." A synonym of "sexism" is "gender discrimination."

We use this term in connection with the denial of ordination of female clergy because it fits perfectly. A woman may have all of the personality traits, abilities, knowledge, commitment, and a sense of being called by God to the clergy, but be denied ordination by a sexist religious organization because of their gender.

There are many different forms of discrimination. The main ones currently active in North America are:

bullet Racism: unequal treatment because of race;
bullet Sexism: unequal treatment because of gender;
bullet Homophobia: unequal treatment because of sexual orientation;
bullet Religism: unequal treatment because of religion; 1
bullet Xenophobia: unequal treatment because of nationality

Many sincere, deeply devout people object to being referred to as racists, sexists homophobes, etc. They generally point to passages in their holy texts -- the Hebrew Scriptures, Christian Scriptures, Qur'an, etc. -- which they interpret as requiring them to discriminate against others. However, discrimination against others based on a holy text is still discrimination. Further, it is a violation of a major theme that permeates all holy texts and religions: the theory of reciprocity -- often called the Golden Rule.


The feminist movement has raised the public's consciousness about the unfairness of gender discrimination. Modern-day secular society has responded by eliminating sexism in employment, education, accommodation, etc. A large portion of the public has accepted that women should be given the same career opportunities that men have long enjoyed.

It is obvious that, early in the 21st century, the largest institutions in North America that continue to deny equal rights to women are conservative Christian denominations: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and many denominations within Protestantism, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Southern Baptist Convention. These groups interpret Bible passages as requiring women and men to follow defined, sexually determined roles. In opposite-sex marriage, for example, men are to lead and women are expected to be submissive to their husbands. In religion institutions women are not to be placed in a position of authority over men. A logical result of these beliefs is that women are not to be considered for ordination. There is no wiggle room here, unless their theologians follow more liberal Christian theologians and take a different approach to biblical interpretation.

Gender discrimination appears to becoming as abhorrent to the public as racism. Conservative denominations may well be under increasing pressure to conform to the non-sexist standard found in liberal faith groups and secular groups. Faith groups will be expected to evaluate candidates for ordination on the basis of the candidates knowledge, sense of calling from God, personality, commitment, ability, etc -- but not on the basis of gender. Gender discrimination will be viewed by many as a millstone around the necks of conservative denominations. It will present a serious barrier to the evangelization of non-Christians. Whenever religious institutions are perceived by the general public as operating to a lower ethical standard than the rest of society, religious conversion becomes increasingly difficult to achieve.

Topics Covered in this menu:

bullet The status of women in society and religion:
bullet Equal rights - An overview
bullet Legal aspects of gender discrimination
bullet Numbers of female clergy in North America

bulletWhen various faith groups started to ordain women: Part 1 Part 2

bullet Status of female ordination and consecration:

bullet The Roman Catholic Church

bullet Among Anglicans:

The Anglican communion:

bullet The Australian Anglican Church

bullet The Church of England:
bullet Ordaining female priests


Consecrating female bishops:

bullet The Episcopal Church, USA

bullet The Scottish Episcopal Church

bullet Orthodox, mainline and liberal Christian denominations, & other religions

bullet Conservative Protestant denominations

bullet Bible and other ancient sources:
bullet Female leaders mentioned in the Bible, and early Christian writings

bullet Biblical passages directly related to female leadership and ordination

bullet The status of women in the Bible and early Christianity

bullet The continuing debate:
bullet Arguments for and against female ordination

bullet Recent news on female ordination

bullet Lawsuit against the Roman Catholic church

bullet More information:
bullet Books, Internet links and a video

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Books, a website and a video:

bullet B.M Ashley, "Justice in the Church : Gender and Participation (The McGivney Lectures of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, 1992)," Catholic University of America Press (1996) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

bullet E. Behr-Sigel, "The Ministry of Women in the Church," Oakwood Publ., (1990). Review/order this book An analysis by an Orthodox theologian.

bullet J. Chapman, "Last Bastion: Women Priests; the Case for and Against," Heinemann, (1989) Order this book 

bullet M. Chaves, "Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in religious Organizations," Harvard Univ. Press, (1997).  Review/order this book  The author "discovers that groups having strong sacramentalist or strong fundamentalist beliefs are the most likely to use restrictive views of women’s roles in the church as a protest against modernism and liberalism."  

bullet K.K. FitzGerald, "Women Deacons in the Orthodox church: Called to Holiness and Ministry," Holy Cross Press (1998). Order this book

bullet R.T. France, "Women in the Church's Ministry: A Test-Case for Biblical Interpretation," Eerdmans Publ., (1997). Review/order this book

bullet S.J. Grenz & D.M. Kjesbo, "Women in the Church: a Biblical Theology of Women in Minstry," Intervarsity Press, (1995) Review/order this book 

bullet A.F. Ide, "God's Girls: Ordination of Women in the Early Christian and Gnostic Churches," Tanglewould Press, (1986). Order this book 

bullet J.G. Melton, "Women's Ordination: Official Statement from Religious Bodies and Ecumenical Organizations," Gale Research, (1990) Order this book

bullet E.P. Mitchell, Ed., "Women: To Preach or not to Preach; 21 Outstanding Black Preachers say Yes," Judson Press, (1991). Review/order this book

bullet P.S. Nadell, "Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1989-1985," Beacon Press, (1998). Review/order this book

bullet K.J. Torjensen, "When Women Were Priests", Harper, San Francisco (1995) Review/order this book

bullet VIDEO: "Women's Ordination: the Hidden Tradition," is a 58 minute British videotape of the history of women's ordination in Christianity. It "investigates Church history which suggests that the evidence of history is not as clear-cut as it might appear. For it would seem that in the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I sent a letter to the bishops of Southern Italy instructing them to stop ordaining women." It is now available in the U.S. from: Call Reel Spirit Productions at (281) 376-6229


  1. "Religism" is a word that is not yet found in dictionaries, but is badly needed. There are words in the English language that refer to many forms of bigotry, hatred, and/or a desire to limit the civil rights of people on the basis of their religion, race (racism), sex (sexism), sexual orientation (homophobia), gender identity (transphobia), nationality (xenophobia), etc. But we have no single word that refers to bigotry, discrimination and/or exclusion based of religion. Yet religious bigotry and hatred may be the most serious threat to the survival of humanity in the 21st century. The word "Religism" seems to be catching on: On 2006-MAY-07, Google found 54 hits for the word. By 2008-JAN-01, there were 345. By 2010-OCT-03, there were 1,510. By 2012-OCT-10, 6,100. Sadly, on 2015-JAN-31, we found 3,330.

Copyright 2006 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-MAY-09
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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